Coaches help ballerinas refine their approach to a role. Over time, a bond can be forged as dancer and coach strive together toward a better result. Many of the greatest ballerinas credit their coaches with their success. When former American Ballet Theatre prima Susan Jaffe retired, she laid a bouquet of roses at the feet of her coach, Irina Kolpakova. Today, ABT’s Paloma Herrera works almost exclusively with Kolpakova, a former Kirov ballerina and ABT ballet master. Natalia Magnicaballi has done the same with the legendary Suzanne Farrell since she joined The Suzanne Farrell Ballet in 1999. Sarah Lamb, a principal with The Royal Ballet since 2006, works with ballet master Alexander Agadzhanov on her roles in the classics. Here is what these ballerinas have to say about the coaches who have provided them with invaluable guidance.
 

Paloma Herrera  

I joined ABT 20 years ago. The first variation I learned with the company was Amor in Don Quixote. Irina has been with me since the very first day—literally. She knows me inside out. I completely trust her. Whatever she says I will do, but I can ask her why to understand better. For me, it’s an amazing feeling because I always have those eyes on me during every performance. I’ve done ballets like Swan Lake and Don Q a lot. It’s great to go into the studio with those roles and know that we can take them somewhere else. She doesn’t say, “You have to do it this way and that’s the only way to do it.”   

Nobody knows you better than the coach who works with you all the time. They are going to tell you the truth. It is that working process that I love. You can go in the studio and rehearse a lot, but it’s not the same as having someone you can trust. Irina was an incredible dancer, but as a coach she always wants you to be as good as you can be. For dancers it is really important to keep pushing in every direction.

Irina has a lot of energy. She is always showing all the steps with such feeling. She sometimes says, “My English is so bad,” but I can understand right away what she is trying to say. It’s her being, the energy she gives the room. Even working on ballets like Alexei Ratmansky’s On the Dnieper and The Bright Stream—the choreography is so full—it’s a whole new way of dancing, of how to move. We found it together.

Natalia Magnicaballi
Working with Ms. Farrell inspires and nourishes me as an artist. Sometimes she will raise her hand right in front of me without saying a word and I’ll know exactly what she means, or with a few words she will give me the “feeling” of the role she is passing on, so I can think how to approach it. I feel it’s all about trust; you know she will always tell you what is best for you.

Something that I love about working with her is that she triggers my imagination and instincts as a dancer. She doesn’t want me to dance any ballet the way she or other dancers did. She encourages and guides me to find my way to make the ballets my own. With her, it’s very rare to watch a video to learn a ballet—she passes them directly to me.
               
Mr. Balanchine is regarded as the father of American ballet and Ms. Farrell as his muse. Through her passion, love and commitment, she has opened my eyes and heart to Mr. Balanchine’s fascinating worlds. His ballets, his legacy are handed directly to me from her. For me, as a ballerina, it’s more than special; it’s an honor.
 
Sarah Lamb
Alexander Agadzhanov is Ukrainian and had the same training I did—my teacher and coach was Tatiana Nicolaevna Legat of the Kirov—so I understand him. We have the same approach to classical roles, the same exacting nature and the same feeling of continuity. I don’t know the exact translation into English, but in Russian the word “cantilena” means grace and fluidity and plasticity, which are what make dance—all the steps in between, all the linking and preparations that accumulate and produce the image of liquidity.
          
Alexander demonstrates a lot, and partners me to show my partners how he wants them to do a certain step with me. He is always on his feet showing rather than telling. Sometimes I put too much force or energy into something when he knows if I attack it less I will sail around in a pirouette rather than turning quickly and finishing abruptly. He is really observant and can see not only what has gone wrong, but how it has gone wrong and then he corrects it. He isn’t pedantic, he won’t overanalyze. He simply says what is needed to ameliorate it. 

I feel I’ve grown in every role I have done with Alexander. He doesn’t impose his thoughts on me, but he will discuss certain points where he thinks I should change something and he always has a good reason. Often something that will work in close proximity doesn’t work in a theater and he has a real sense of theatricality and knows what is effective. Having a coach is a privilege—like having a private tutor. It’s a wonderful tradition in ballet.

Joseph Carman, a frequent contributor to Pointe, is author of Round About The Ballet.

Andersen in Balanchine's "Valse-Fantaisie." Photo by Daniel Azoulay, Courtesy Miami City Ballet.

I got my corps contract on my 18th birthday. It was such a relief. I had convinced myself that I would be okay not dancing, but inside I just wanted to get a contract with Miami City Ballet.

I'd trained at Milwaukee Ballet School pretty much my whole life, and in 2014 I went to the MCB summer program and loved it. They invited me to stay for the year, and right when I got there, they offered me an apprenticeship. I spent the next two years as an apprentice. My second year I got to tour with the company and did Swan Lake, The Nutcracker and Bourrée Fantasque.

Once I was told that I had a contract, it felt like so much weight was lifted off my shoulders. Every single person came up and individually congratulated me. They were so kind, and ever since then they've been like a big family.

It's such a jump from being in a school setting to being in the company. I'm lucky that I was able to experience so much firsthand as an apprentice, but there were still some things that I couldn't get used to. As an apprentice, I would spend half my day rehearsing and taking class at the school, and the other half rehearsing with MCB. Once I got into the company, there was so much less work. It was hard to stay in shape and make sure that I was on top of my dancing. The ballet masters don't give you as many corrections, and I didn't have anybody there to discipline me. It was all self-motivation.

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Master pointe shoe fitter Josephine Lee is back, this time sharing her tried-and-true advice from the streets of New York City. While conducting a pointe shoe seminar at the Joffrey Ballet School's NYC Ballet Intensive, Lee put together a list of five things to keep in mind when choosing a summer program. Whether you're about to embark on this summer's intensive or are already thinking ahead for next year, these are good tips to keep in mind. And what better way to receive advice than while viewing a stroll through some of our favorite ballet-happy spots in NYC?

American Ballet Theatre's Cassandra Trenary seems to have it all—not only is our June/July 2016 cover star a dazzling soloist at ABT, she has a sunny, down-to-earth personality and a life-saving hero for a husband. But her first year in the company had its fair share of disappointments—in fact, she almost left dance altogether to pursue acting.

In May, the National YoungArts Foundation, an organization that provides scholarships and mentorship to aspiring performing artists, brought Trenary (herself a 2011 YoungArts winner) and ABT artist in residence Alexei Ratmansky together for a salon-style discussion. Together they talked about critical turning points in their careers, as well as the challenges of navigating the dance world as a young professional. Below are exclusive excerpts of their interview—we hope their words inspire you as much as they inspire us!



There's still time to enter YoungArts's national arts competition for a chance at scholarships, workshops and more. Click here for information on how to apply.

ADrian Durham in CPYB's production of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow." Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy CPYB.

As a teenager, Adrian Durham studied at his local ballet school in Lake Charles, Louisiana. "I was one of three or four guys training there, and there were no male teachers," says Durham. "Most of my partnering experience came from rehearsals for performances." But after he began training with the male scholarship program at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet in 2014, he experienced a sea change. "It challenged me mentally, physically and emotionally, because it's such an intense program," he says. Now 20, he is preparing for a professional career with an integrated set of tools: ballet technique, physical strength and partnering skills.

Men's ballet technique classes have been available for decades, especially at summer intensives and urban ballet schools. Yet programs designed specifically for male dancers, often offering full scholarships, have been rarer—until now, that is. Training that allows boys to separately explore their skills, above and beyond a supplement of double tours en l'air and pirouettes à la seconde at the conclusion of a mixed class, can literally give young men a leg up as they aspire towards a dance career.

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Alessandra Ferri in "Romeo and Juliet." Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy ABT.

To watch Irina Kolpakova coach Swan Lake is to witness a true artist at work. Although long retired from the stage, the American Ballet Theatre ballet mistress still possesses a commanding presence and an instinctive artistic spirit.

"Don't think about your shape when you first see Siegfried," she tells principal Isabella Boylston during rehearsal for Odette's Act II entrance. "This is not 'port de bras.' This is 'Don't touch me!' " Kolpakova demonstrates, transforming instantly into the Swan Queen. Her eyes sparkling and alive, every inch of her diminutive stature swells with a palpable energy capable of reaching the highest ring of the balcony.

Call it stage presence, call it the "it" factor, some dancers just have a natural ability to draw people in and change the atmosphere around them. Stage presence can carry a dancer to a higher artistic realm. It's the final piece of the puzzle, the emotional heart of a performance that can bring an audience to tears. Without it, even the best choreography risks falling flat.

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Via Instagram

Last fall, Diana Vishneva shocked her NYC following when she announced that she would give her final performance with American Ballet Theatre on June 23, 2017. The Russian-born dancer has been part of ABT since performing in Romeo and Juliet as a guest artist in 2003, and has held the title of principal dancer with the company since 2005 in addition to her principal role with the Mariinksy Ballet. Throughout her time with ABT, which she spoke about in the below video for The New Yorker, Vishneva has danced as a guest artist with Bolshoi Ballet, Paris Opera Ballet and Berlin State Ballet.


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Karen Kain is internationally renowned as a performer and as the National Ballet of Canada's artistic director. The former NBoC principal always carries herself with the grace and sophistication of a true leader. However, in this 1976 clip from Giselle, the distinguished ballerina is convincingly naïve and bewildered in her interpretation of the mad scene.



Kain conveys Giselle's innocence at the start of the scene with pure, unaffected gestures and facial expressions. Then, after Albrecht betrays her, her eyes stare unfocused into the distance as if she's in a trance. Although this scene is mostly acting, Kain dances dreamily to the musical motif at 5:30 and conceals her technical strength in order to show the character's frailty. It takes a true ballerina to perform this heartbreaking and beautiful role, and with performances like this and her lifelong commitment to the art form, Kain proves that she is an extraordinary one. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!

Photo by Quinn Wharton

How can I wean myself off my coffee fix without experiencing headaches and crankiness that will disrupt my rehearsal process? —Lauryn

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